This summer has been marked as one of the very hottest summers on record. Consequently, huge numbers of people have headed to the local resort lakes in Central Alberta to seek some relief from the heat. One of the most popular of those resorts is Sylvan Lake.
In the past, one of the big summer attractions, other than the seasonal heat, was the annual Sylvan Lake Regatta. The first of these big events was held more than 100 years ago in 1913.
The roots of the Regatta lay in the incorporation of the Village at the start of the year. The residents wanted to have a big community celebration of this milestone. There was a large New Year’s Eve Dance in Heenan’s Hall. However, the weather was cold, the hall was small and people wanted to have a community celebration that was both much bigger and could be staged during tourist season.
A regatta, which would take full advantage of the Lake, seemed an ideal way to mark the birth of the community as an official village. Very few regattas had been staged in Alberta before. This uniqueness added to the attractiveness of the proposal.
The first planning meetings were held in the latter part of April. One of the first decisions was to build a wharf, off the end of Main Street, as soon as the ice was out. It was also initially proposed that the Regatta be held sometime in June. However, the date was later set as July 12, when the weather would hopefully be a little more certain and there would be more time to prepare.
Work on the planning and preparations continued feverishly throughout May and June. The Alberta Central Railway was approached to see if it would run special excursion trains to Sylvan Lake, over the rail line that was still under construction on its way to Rocky Mountain House.
A major advertising campaign was conducted in Calgary and Edmonton as it was felt that these inland “metropolises” would appreciate the opportunity to see the water sports and the other entertainments connected with a regatta. Of course, the longer-term goal was to familiarize the residents of those cities with the attractiveness and amenities of Sylvan Lake and, hopefully, convert them into regular summer tourists.
Because the Village was still relatively small, a committee was formed in Red Deer to help out. It was largely composed of cottage owners and regular campers at the Lake. However, the group was anxious to stress that they were only there to help and did want to give any appearance that they were “butting in” on the event.
By the first week of July, everything was ready. Nearly every building was “decorated with evergreens, flags and bunting”. The new pier was also elaborately decorated. The road in front of the Sylvan Lake Hotel had a large banner stretched across it with the word “Welcome” written in such large letters that it was said to be visible for more than a kilometre.
There were some sporting events on Friday, July 11, with foot races and two baseball games. There was also a tennis tournament. The big kick-off, however, consisted of a large dance in the Heenan Opera House on Main Street.
The main swimming and boating events took place on Saturday, July 12. There were also more baseball games. The weather was great and the crowds were huge. In the evening, there was a lavish banquet with music supplied by the Red Deer Citizen’s Band (the forerunner of the Red Deer Royals).
Everyone agreed that the first annual Sylvan Lake Regatta had been a smashing success. There were, of course, a few glitches. People complained that there were not enough bleachers “for the accommodation of the ladies” and the pier was often dangerously overcrowded.
Nevertheless, the wonderful success of the Sylvan Lake Regatta was soon confirmed when the new community of Gull Lake announced that it would be holding its first annual summer regatta on August 9, 1913.
Red Deer historian Michael Dawe’s column appears on Wednesdays